Two new Gaian Kōans help us explore the universe and the nature of Gaia:
During dinner one evening, a student turns to her teacher and asks, “Teacher, is Gaia unique in the universe or are there other planetary beings like Gi?”
The teacher puts her spoon down, looks at her student, and replies:
Truthfully, this needs no commentary. Just as all humans are unique but have the same 99.9 percent genetic code as everyone else*—and many shared genes with non-human beings—would it truly surprise to discover other planetary beings in the universe—a universe composed of ‘billions and billions of stars?’**
And which would be more surprising: that the rules of life are eerily similar or dramatically different on each of those planets? In all probability, the same rules around water and carbon as the basis of life would play out more often than not and while alien beings may be incredibly dissimilar superficially, at the heart (if they have hearts) they’d follow similar rules—around genes, biochemistry, and so on. And thus, other living planets would, yes, be unique, worthy of their own sacred way, but also of the same cloth as Gaia—siblings across space and time.
Dancing Planetary Beings
Another student then asks his teacher,
“With sextillions of stars in the universe, that probably means that planetary beings are more numerous than humans on Earth.”
The teacher, after eating another spoonful of soup, replies, “How many planetary beings can dance on the face of a star?”
In the 1600s, and even earlier, theologians debated questions that seem laughable today: Are angels sexless? Can multiple angels be in one place at one time? One theologian, perhaps in jest, perhaps in seriousness, asked the question: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
Ultimately, the question is nonsensical—being embedded in so much fantasy and inarguable elements (How many angels exist? Can they change their size and form to dance on a pinhead?, etc.) that even if one believed in angels, the question feels ridiculous, or simply unanswerable. Hence, why today the question is the poster child of “questions whose answers hold no intellectual consequence.”
But arguably, that might have been the point: to pull theologians out of conversations of ridiculous topics and into topics that matter—like how does a good Christian live.
Hence, our Gaian teacher in this story attempts to do the same. Whether there are ten, ten thousand, ten million, or ten billion living planets in the universe—more than humans on this living planet—is irrelevant.*** The only thing relevant for us, now, is how we reconnect ourselves with Gaia, understand that we’re part of and utterly dependent on Gi for our ability to survive and thrive, and then act accordingly. Before it’s too late. One day, we may play a role in seeding new planetary life—sending out microbial polyextremophiles to nearby planets or moons, for example, or even farther, but not if we don’t come back into harmony with Gaia forthwith. So finish your soup and go forth and heal the planet, teaching others to do the same.
*That’s the equivalent of a half a page out of the novel The Overstory being different. Yes, it could dramatically change the plot. Though probably not. But either way, each copy of the book would be unique.
Caption for photo on Reflections page: “Circular representation of the observable universe on a logarithmic scale. Distance from Earth increases exponentially from center to edge. Celestial bodies were enlarged to appreciate their shapes.” (Image and caption by Unmismoobjetivo via Wikimedia Commons)